Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Beers of the Year

Here is my list that was a year in the drinking. As I stated in the previous post, this blog is about finding and tasting good beers, and this list is a culmination of this year's search. I should note that there is very little distinction in my mind among my four top rated beers. Here is my list:

1. Stone's Vertical Epic 08.08.08: Here is what I wrote last August:
Unbelievable. This beer is amazing. I will write more later but this is one of the best beers I have ever had. I think the Belgian, Duval-style golden ale is my new favorite beer style and Stone's 08.08.08 is an hopped-up example of the style.
I have had several bottles of this beer and my opinion has not changed. It is my favorite Vertical Epic release - so far - and I enjoyed this beer more than Stone's heralded Tenth Anniversary IPA. I have a few bottles of 08.08.08 left, but I can't guarantee that they will last until 12.12.12, which is scheduled for release in four years. Heck, I can't guarantee they will make it to New Year.

2. Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA (spring 2008 release): This beer, with its fresh hop smell and floral taste was stunning. To me, it has taken on an almost mythic quality because two subsequent releases of this Limited Release beer, while excellent, did not have the remembered smell and taste of the spring release. Here is part of what I wrote last spring:
The first thing you notice is the smell. Hop aroma filled the kitchen when I opened the growler and poured the Sculpin into an English pint glass. The flavor matched the smell. A strong hop bitterness that was well balanced with malt. It is an excellent IPA and better than the Big Eye, which I enjoy. The aroma.....
Even though the current version of Sculpin does not match the spring release, this is still one fantastic, flavor bomb of a beer.

3. Russian River's Pliny the Elder: This is beer became widely released in bottles this year. I did not have this on my list until I retried it again the other night along with the latest Sculpin. It was better than the Sculpin. It is one of my favorite, everyday IPAs. It is a double IPA, but in its 16.9 ounce bottle it is not overwhelming. As shown in the picture, it is a good looking beer (Summer of Beer has many pictures of Pliny and I am beginning to think this beer does not take a bad picture.) It is crisp and hoppy. This is one of the great craft beers, and one where the taste exceeds the hype. Here is what I wrote about Pliny (and Blind Pig, one of Russian River's IPAs) last summer:
It is not uncommon for hype and expectations to exceed taste for hard to get beers. This is not the case for these two beers as both are excellent. Both are IPAs, and Pliny the Elder is a double IPA. To me, these beers are unique in that the first taste for both is unremarkable, but as you proceed down the glass the taste improves and the last taste is a moment of sadness.
4. The Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel: This is my favorite beer (of the four I've tried) from Placentia's The Bruery. (If you have not heard of The Bruery you should check the back posts on its blog to follow the development of a brewery from the ground up, literally.) This beer was brewed with rice and basil, although I never got these flavors. Instead, I tasted a dry, balanced beer that tasted excellent. Here is part of what I wrote:
This is a delicious, complex, yet drinkable beer. It's clearly a Belgian-style due to its yeast, which is a detectable in the flavor. I'll admit that I could not taste the basil or the rice, although I am not sure the rice was supposed to be tasted. It was a spicy beer that when combined with the high level of carbonation produced a beer that needed to be sipped. I caught a whiff of banana, but did not taste it in the beer. The beer had strong yeast, spice and carbonation.
I was going to limit my Best List to three beers, but after retasting Pliny the other night, this list would have been incomplete without it.

Here are a few honorable mentions:
  • The Lost Abbey's Inferno: This was my first Belgian Strong Golden Ale and made my a huge fan of the style. It's a mellow, drinkable beer despite its aggressive name and bottle label.
  • The Lost Abbey's Ten Commandments: I had this on Halloween and its complexity still amazes me.
  • Firestone's Union Jack India Pale Ale: This probably would have made my top list except for a bad (too old) six pack I had late in the year. The initial beer last summer was excellent, but the spoiled beer I had last fall was a downer.
  • Telegraph Brewing's California Ale: I was not expecting this beer. It is a Belgian-style Saison that is as drinkable as it is good. This is a year-round beer and may be hard to find, but it seems to be getting a wider distribution.

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